A few months after a disappointing senior season at Braden River, Jordan Guerrero was told by several professional baseball scouts that he was a legitimate major-league prospect.
That's all the right-hander needed to hear. He got himself in shape, dropping 30 pounds to get his weight down to 250 and made some changes in his pitching.
The 18-year-old cashed in on those moves shortly after midnight on Wednesday when he signed with the San Diego Padres, who drafted him in the sixth round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft on Tuesday.
"A guy called me and said let me me know when you are ready and talked about setting up a meeting. I said, 'I am good now.' He came over, and I signed at about one in the morning," Guerrero said.
The 6-foot-6 Guerrero said he received a $200,000 signing bonus that included six semesters of college the Padres would cover if he returns to school. He expects to join the organization by the weekend.
Guerrero pitched this past season for Polk State. He only threw 22 innings, but they were impressive, and his 20 appearances were the second most on the team. He struck out 28 batters. The stat that left scouts drooling was his fastball, which was clocked
at 98 mph. He allowed only four earned runs in compiling a 1.59 ERA.
It made his last year in high school seem a million miles away, which it is in Guerrero's mind. He finished his senior year with an ERA higher than 6.00 and often had a hard time finding the strike zone.
"The key was that I made some adjustments," Guerrero said. "I worked a lot on balance during the summer. I was unbalanced on my stride and was able to correct that. I got in a lot better shape, and the weight came off."
One person not surprised at how Guerrero jettisoned up the draft charts is Braden River head baseball coach Craig Page. He had seen the big righty consistently throw a fastball around 93 miles per hour and knew it was a matter of getting his mechanics right.
"We knew he had the potential to do well," Paige said. "His stats were a little misleading because he had some really bad outings that affected his numbers and he needed to get in better shape. Losing that weight really helped."
Guerrero was only 17 when he finished his career at Braden River. He played fall baseball for Polk and the promise he had shown began to blossom.
"In the fall at Polk State only about two months after I graduated I had a couple of scouts call me and compliment me on my pitching," Guerrero said. "That's when I really knew to put things into gear and started losing weight and became baseball smart. I had grown up with kids who were drafted and that motivated me. Ever since I was 4, I wanted to pitching professional baseball."
Another Braden River product, outfielder Myles Straw, was drafted in the 12th round by the Houston Astros. A sophomore, he played the last two seasons at St. Johns River State College in Palatka.
He led St. Johns with a .413 batting average, .472 on base percentage and 85 hits and tied for the team lead with 59 runs scored.
The 5-10, 180-pound Straw was a first team all-state selection this year. A center fielder, he plans to sign with the Astros on Thursday, though he had committed to South Alabama.
"I wanted to start my career as soon as possible and feel I am ready now," the 20-year-old said. "I've been talking to the Astros all year, probably more than any team and like the organization. I am excited. It's a blessing, it's unreal. This has been my childhood dream and it finally came through. Hopefully it's the beginning."
Zunica taken in 15th round
When Brad Zunica made the unorthodox decision to skip his senior year at Lakewood Ranch High and enroll at the University of Miami a year early to play baseball, it began his path as a unique major league prospect.
After three years of gathering experience in the ACC, he would have been only 20.
But after one year in Coral Gables with only sporadic playing time, Zunica made another decision that ended up accelerating his MLB Draft time line even more. Searching for more consistent at-bats, Zunica transferred to State College of Florida and now, after one year back in Bradenton, the 19-year-old could be heading to professional baseball with two years of college experience.
The Padres used their 15th-round pick, No. 447 overall, to take Zunica in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday. The 6-foot-6, 256-pound first baseman was the third Manatee to be chosen, joining shortstops Mitch Piatnik and Brantley Bell.
"I'm definitely excited for the opportunity," Zunica said, "and grateful that the Padres are giving me the chance to continue my professional career."
The former Herald All-Area Player of the Year flew out to San Diego for a workout on Sunday, which made him think the Padres were a potential destination. On Wednesday, he got a call from a Padres representative telling him he was about to be chosen, which gave him a chance to watch his name be called on MLB.com's live stream.
His decision on whether to sign with the Padres or fulfill his commitment to Division II champion University of Tampa will come down to his negotiations with the club.
"I'm definitely considering it," Zunica said.
With his rare combination of age and power, Zunica knew he was going to be appealing to major league scouts. After batting .174 without a home run in 40 at-bats during his only season as a Hurricane, he transferred to SCF for his sophomore year and blossomed into one of the best junior-college power hitters in Florida.
In 196 at-bats for SCF, Zunica batted .311 and slugged .597. His 13 home runs were tied for 14th in the nation.
He told head coach Tim Hill II this wasn't a product of moving down a level -- the pitching, he told him, was just as good as the pitching he saw at Miami -- but rather the sheer number of at-bats he got with the Manatees allowed him to improve rapidly.
"He got to play every day," Hill said. "It's tough to get better when you have 40 at-bats."